It Was the Best of Times, it Was the Worst of Times….10 lbs of Grace

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” -as Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities begins, so begins my story.

My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for two and a half years. I had already had one miscarriage. But this time, the pregnancy test was our friend, and the two tests both showed positive. I was pregnant! I was so thankful – life had never been better. I had been married for 10 years –sure we had our ups and downs but more ups than downs….or so I thought. Recently some things had seemed a little different, but when you have two career-minded professionals, it just goes with the lifestyle, right? My husband had his own law firm in an affluent part of Florida and I worked as a Human Resources Manager at one of the largest banks in the country. We had been nicknamed “The Hallmark Couple” from our college days where we met our freshman year. We dated for 5 years before we were married so, in all, we had been together for 15 years.

After my jubilation at seeing the positive reading, my husband asked me a seemingly innocuous question, “Are you really pregnant this time?” I smiled and said, “That is what the little pink stripe said!” He replied, “I am not fit to be your husband or a father” and burst into uncontrollable sobs. He proceeded to tell me how he had slept with other women, had been lying to me about his whereabouts, had been drinking heavily after I went to sleep at night. I immediately went into “fix it” mode and asked if he would be willing to go to counseling with me. After all, we could work this out….after all, I was pregnant!

Flash forward to 9 weeks into the pregnancy where we were separated, and I began walking the journey of my 9 month pregnancy – just Jesus and me. I found a wonderful midwife in FL who I met through much research. I was interested in having a home birth, but since she only delivered in the hospital. I acquiesced – “It’s probably better that way,” I thought. My husband and I kept going to counselors, and I told no one our secret – not my parents, not my friends, not my co-workers. Why should I tell anyone when clearly this would all be reconciled after just a few more sessions with our counselor?

Flash forward once more to 7 months pregnant when my husband told me 1) there was another woman, 2) she was more important than I was to him and 3) no, he was not willing to give her up. I had been praying for clarity and now I had it. I had to get back to Tennessee and find a new midwife to deliver my baby girl (yes! I found out I was having a little girl and I would name her “Grace” – the perfect name). And that’s not all – I had to pack. Packing 42 boxes in total when you are 7 months pregnant is no easy task. On top of the packing, I had to sell the FL house, find a job in Nashville and move back home. Since I had to find a new midwife in Nashville, maybe…just maybe… I could find one that would do a home birth this time….that is, if I could find the job and the home in the 2 months remaining. After all, the thought of having a home birth surrounded by my 42 boxes in a one bedroom apartment was not my dream birth plan – I wanted to find a new home. It was time to start a new life – not just the life of the little girl that was in my belly, squirming around incessantly to let me know she was there, but a new life for the two of us in Nashville. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Why am I sharing all this background information? (I am asking myself that same question, I assure you!) It all feeds into the internal struggles I had to deal with while laboring. Labor wraps up all the spiritual, emotional and physical parts of you into one single dance. I had to face the truth of my situation fully in order to fully surrender to my labor.

At this point in the story, I met Mary Anne Richardson – God love her!! But first — you have to hear about my dear friend, Jodie. Jodie was one of my closest, dearest, brightest, funniest friends since high school. Before I was ever pregnant, I went out west to visit Jodie. She told me that she was going to have a home birth with a midwife. WHAT?!!! Was she crazy? This is my exceptionally intelligent friend who was going to do WHAT?! Clearly, I had to look into what was causing this early dementia with my dear friend. So I started to read….and read….and read….and read some more. In all I read between 25 and 30 books. I kept feeling more and more convicted that this was not only the best option for her, but it was also THE BEST and ONLY birthing plan for me as well.

When I finally unveiled my secret to Jodie and told her I would need to move back home and find a midwife (fast!!), Jodie quickly got the names of several midwives for me to interview. I had to find someone quickly – after all, I was not back in Nashville until month 7 of my pregnancy. To risk using a corny movie line, Mary Anne “had me from hello.” I knew instantaneously that she was the one and man, was I right. Mary Anne walked me through those final months with tremendous compassion, educating me about the process and caring about the whole of me, not just the baby-delivering part of me. Here is a perfect example. In the final month of my pregnancy, I decided to come clean and tell my parents about the fact that I was planning a home birth. I had been to scared to share this with them for fear of their reaction – their reaction would likely be similar to the way I had felt about Jodie’s having a home birth, only they wouldn’t read the 25 books to check it out, like I did. When I finally shared with my mother why this was so important to me and why this was truly my decision to make (amid buckets and barrels of tears), I thought everything was fine.

Until the next day….

My mother called me back along with my father and berated me for the “foolish” decision I was making. After trying to “reason” with me for several days, Mom and Dad finally had an intervention and came over to the house. They sat down to tell me it was “backwards, stupid, absurd, ridiculous, middle age-ish….all of their friends agree that I am crazy….and that I would put the lives of both my daughter and myself at risk.” I thanked them for sharing how they felt but was immovable concerning my decision. They left telling me that I was on my own now. They would not be there for me through this process. Mary Anne even offered to call my parents; she offered to answer any and all of their questions at their house, if they liked. But Mom and Dad refused her offer. They were set in their decision, but I was equally firm in my resolve. With all that had happened in my life this year, this little baby who had heard her Mommy crying herself to sleep night after night after night would have a gentle birth. I knew I had to give her that – for both of us.

So now I had lost my husband and my parents…but I still had Jodie (my support and soul mate) and most of all, I had Jesus (my rock and my friend).

As I was doing my quiet time the next morning, Jesus talked to me more directly than ever before. Here was the verse I read in my quiet time from Colossians 3: “And so I labor with all of His strength which so powerfully works in me.” There it was – Jesus was letting me know that HE supported my home birth and that as I labored, I would have HIS strength working powerfully through me. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Flash forward to 2 weeks past my due date. Yes, you read it correctly, 2 weeks late. My entire birth plan was wrapped into my heart’s desire- a home birth –and the reality that it was slipping away was upon me. Early on, Mary Anne told me about some tinctures or the dreaded “C” word (i.e. castor oil) that we could try if it came down to the wire. Come on!! Everyone has their limit. No “C” for me!! I would just keep walking – correction, hobbling– down the street 2-3 times a day and I could get this little girl out in no time. Or maybe more Mexican food? One of those would surely do the trick.

No dice! Two weeks late and the doctor supporting Mary Anne said that I would have to be induced in the morning if the baby didn’t come that day. Mary Anne made the phone call to me and mustered all the care and compassion she could in order to tell me the news. I hung up the phone, and the tears fell to the floor.

And then I gave it all to Jesus.

I sat there in my bedroom and I bowed my head. “Lord, I give you this little girl, and I give you all the hopes and dreams I had for this home birth. If your will is that I have this baby in the hospital, help me embrace that as part of your will. If your will is that I have this child at home, I embrace that too. Let thy will, not mine, be done. In your Son’s name. Amen.” In that final release, I think I did what He had been waiting for me to do all along – surrender to Him.

Mary Anne offered to come over and yes, I even surrendered to the dreaded “C” at that point. I would do the tinctures and the “C” smoothie and leave it in Jesus’ capable hands as to the outcome. I had my first tincture at 1:00 p.m. followed by the yummiest orange “C” smoothie (ok, so the “yummy” is a stretch but it was really not that bad after all). By 3:00 that afternoon, Jodie and I were walking the streets and my contractions were 1 minute apart.

Mary Anne and her two assistants came to my house, so in all, there were 5 of us ladies in my bedroom when I got to the point where I could no longer walk. My body was telling me it was time to lie down and surrender – literally and figuratively. Part of my birthing plan had included listening to the “Out of Africa” music and having a birthing tub so I could labor in water. Surprisingly, I wanted only to labor in the silence of my room, in complete darkness, with the loving support of all these strong ladies around me. I let the cadence of my breathing and sounds of my labor mirror Jodie’s hands as she stroked my back as my doula. It was like a dance – the music was the sound of my labor, and I followed my partner’s lead as she led me through each contraction, stroking my back to indicate how to breathe and allowing me to focus on her touch and on the sounds of labor.

While the aftershock of the “C” smoothie kept me somewhat mobile (I will spare you the details), it allowed me to have this expected pattern that helped me journey through the labor process. The pattern kept repeating itself and as long as I had Jodie stroking my back to guide my breathing and someone else rubbing my feet (might as well milk it for everything it’s worth!), I was coping well with the forces of active labor and was able to allow my body to do what it needed to do and not fight the strong waves of labor.

By 8 p.m., Mary Anne checked me and said that I had to get through two more contractions before pushing. Was she serious?! I had been doing great on my labor but now my body had grabbed this megaphone and seemed to be screaming across the loud speakers in the Titans football stadium “PPUUUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!” But I followed her advice and stayed totally relaxed below while beating the side of my bed with my hand like I was the newest drummer in AC/DC’s band.

When Mary Anne said, “Sarah, you’re 10 cm; you can push now,” I created some levity in the room by exclaiming, “But I haven’t even asked for an epidural yet!” She laughed and said, “Well, it’s time!” (Almost every one of those 25 books I had read said that the clear sign you are in transition was when you asked for an epidural.)

In a way, pushing was such a relief – I loved being able to take a more active role in my labor. Since I had no epidural and no drugs, my body was giving me very clear direction on when to push, how long to push and how strongly to push. I’ve never felt so empowered.

I was on my back in the normal hospital position and nothing was happening. Finally, I had this “duh” moment where I exclaimed – “Wait a second. I am at home. I don’t have to sit like this.” I stood up on the bed, grabbed hold of Jodie’s shoulders and squatted with contractions. Staying in this upright position, where gravity was my friend, helped my baby to eventually drop. Close to when she crowned, I found the most effective position to be over a birthing ball. After her head was born, Mary Anne could see that it would take some effort to get her shoulders out. I heard Mary Anne say in a calm, controlled but unmistakably clear voice, “Sarah, you have to get Grace out …right now.” I knew I could do this. I felt more empowered than I have ever felt in my life and as I held on to that birthing ball, I could hear Mary Anne telling me as parts of her emerged. There was this final surge and then I was still. I didn’t move. I heard Jodie say, “Sarah, look at your baby!” I turned around and there was this precious, plump child. She had all her fingers and toes; she even had fat, pudgy cheeks thanks to the 2 weeks late delivery. What struck me most were her eyes – they were wide open. She was taking it all in. No drugs to slow her down. She was alert, awake and astonishingly made. God had given me the gift of His son and now He had given me the gift of my daughter. I was overwhelmed. What a creator we have.

What happened next is one of the true blessings of having a home birth. Mary Anne’s assistant weighed Miss Grace — a whopping TEN pounds!!! — cleaned her up, and left her on my chest for us to have time alone. Everyone left the room to allow mother and daughter their first time together. It was amazing. No nurses running in to take her to bathe her; no interruptions by well-meaning medical personnel, just time with my baby girl to have our first nursing time and introduction, face to face. And boy did she nurse! Yes, indeed, she nursed like a champ which I attribute to the lack of any drugs in labor coupled with my taking Jodie’s strong advice to attend La Leche League meetings while pregnant. So she nursed and I loved on this beautiful child – looking at her fingers and toes and thanking Jesus over and over for this precious, precious child. “It was the best of times.”

So how does the story end? There were some really memorable moments – like when my father formally apologized to Mary Anne when, at last, he met her. He said, “I want to apologize to you and to my daughter. You gave her the best birth experience she could have asked for.” Grace’s dad flew in from his addiction program the day after her birth to meet her. While things did not work out for us and we ended up getting a divorce, it was meaningful that he got to see Grace so soon after her birth. And as for me….Mary Anne was right. Early on when I was trying to keep the fact that I was having a home birth to myself to avoid the “stark-raving-mad” looks of my friends and neighbors, she told me that I would become an “evangelist for home births”!! And she was right!

One final flash forward. The young lady who has helped me with Grace since she was 4 months old just had her second baby boy yesterday on April 17th, 2009. Guess who her doula was? Mary Anne! This young lady used to be just like I was – she wanted an epidural the moment she walked into the hospital. But after hearing my story, she chose to do a little research herself. I went from saying “Knock me out and tell me when the baby is born” to having the most unbelievable birth experience imaginable. It is such a blessing to be able to share a positive birth story. Hearing the story of one woman’s empowered birth can empower another; you never know when a story may change your life.

Grace is now 8. It is so amazing that this child, who heard me cry night after night during this difficult time of my pregnancy, is known most for her happiness. She is happy, healthy, funny, sensitive, loving and thriving in all areas of her life….all praise to God!

In the Old Testament, there is a verse that talks about how the Israelites carried an “omer” of manna to remind them of God’s faithfulness to them in the wilderness. During a Bible study I attended after Grace’s birth, I was asked “What is your ‘omer’ that reminds you of God’s faithfulness?” That is simple….it’s not a what, it’s a who….it’s Grace.